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Buying your child a smartphone can mean exposing her to certain dangers, while requiring a great deal of responsibility, given the price tag on many of these phones.

These are the questions you need to ask before committing to giving your child their own smartphone.

is my child ready?

Having a smartphone is great, but it is also a big responsibility. So before comparing specs on the latest releases, consider whether your child is mature enough. With smartphones comes access to the internet (and everything on it), social media, games, and a variety of apps. Your child will need to be mature enough to decide for herself what to search for online, what to download and when to put the phone away. She’ll also need to be responsible enough not to lose or break the phone, or get it taken away at school.

is my child aware of the dangers?

Smartphones give children access to a world of information along with access to social media, chatrooms and more. Speak to your child about cyberbullying, speaking to strangers online, and about the risk of posting images or comments on any social platform. One way to keep an eye on any activity, is to ensure that you have access to the phone and all passwords on it. You can also install parental control apps, location trackers or similar items to help monitor your child, and ensure her safety.

5 tips for keeping your child safe online, plus the dangers of social media and the legal implications.

what is the best payment option?

You can go with pre-paid, although a contract may be more feasible for more expensive smartphones. One important question is what will happen when the airtime or data runs out? Establish ground rules about how much data and airtime you’re willing to buy every month – when that runs out, make your child responsible for topping up.

what apps will be allowed?

It’s a good idea to establish what apps and games will be allowed on the smartphone. This will vary from age to age, and depend on your child’s interests. But you should ensure that anything downloaded is age-appropriate. You’ll also want to look out for in-app purchases, which can quickly add up to an unexpected expense.

what features do I need to look for?

Of course, your child is going to want the latest smartphone with some cool features, like a decent camera. But you should  look for a phone with a decent camera, a good battery life and one that is durable.

regulating usage for healthy phone habits

Read our article on parenting in a world of screens.

Responsible phone use is about developing healthy phone habits and sticking to family rules. Here are some suggestions on how to set and enforce limits for smartphone usage.

  • Make meal times phone-free times for everyone.
  • Set time limits on what they can download and when they can use their phone, making sure it doesn’t detract from physical activity or sleep time. There is plenty of software you can download and install to limit children’s screen time and access.
  • Ensure children get sufficient restorative sleep. Ohones and electronic devices should be removed from your children at least an hour before bedtime.  Also, don’t charge devices in the bedroom.

Tamlyn Vincent